The U.S. Army of the future needs the gear appropriate for tomorrow’s conflicts — and that means armor. Not only will that that future Army be responsible for everything it does at current, it also needs to be prepared for the unknown — situations we can’t foresee today. Who knows which country or actors will be the major threat of the coming days anyway?
The Army’s solution is the Soldier Protection System, a modular, scaleable armor that is both lightweight and adaptable to future technology and threats.
Like former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once infamously said, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish you had. Now, the Army is prepping to go to war with the Army it wants to have. Each piece of the new armor system is designed so the wearing soldier can modify and scale it up (or down) depending on the nature of their mission on any given day.
At its most minimal, the system is a 2.8 pound vest that is capable of being worn under civilian clothing. Even at such a small weight, the new armor can still stop rounds from a sidearm. At its most protective, the armor is a mix of plates and soft kevlar that can stop blasts from explosions and shell fragments from munitions like Russian artillery shells — all without compromising the soldier’s range of motion.
Pfc. Chris Lunsford, 4-14 Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, communicates with local children during a presence patrol in Sinjar, Iraq, on May 30, 2006.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)
Over the course of the last 15 years of war, body armor has evolved — but usually only getting bigger and more restrictive in the process. The total weight of armor added to a soldier’s carry topped out at 27 pounds in 2016. The Soldier Protection System, from its onset, has been aimed at curbing the weight, reducing it as much as one-quarter in some areas of protection. New systems also include hearing protection and a modular face shield, all without increasing the weight carried overall.
The old system was protective, but limiting in many ways. It had none of the included ear and eye protection the Soldier Protection System has and it was not very conducive to the terrain troops had to overcome in the mountains of Afghanistan. It also wasn’t very helpful in beating the blazing heat of Iraqi deserts. The clunky armor was protective, but often impaired mobility while maneuvering and bringing small arms to bear while in the heat of the moment. When facing lightly-outfitted insurgents, and the armor could impede a soldier’s ability when running to cover.
U.S. Army Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment conduct a halt while searching mountains in Andar province, Afghanistan, for Taliban members and weapons caches June 6, 2007.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Quarterman)
Even with the new modifications, the Army’s armor doesn’t protect much against the blast-induced brain injuries so common on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror. Even firing heavy weapons at an enemy can cause traumatic brain injuries. Some studies suggest the new, lighter-weight helmet of the Soldier Protection System can help with the issues surrounding blast damage, but cannot mitigate it completely.
The recent improvements in armor design aren’t the end of the road for Army researchers. They continue to design and redesign the armor to meet the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) Army operations, to protect vulnerable areas not covered by even the Soldier Protection System while continuing to drop the total weight carried by U.S. troops in combat.
Airman Alex Orquiza of the 71st Security Forces Squadron wears the next generation of ballistic helmet during a door breaching exercise at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma Sept. 15. The Air Force Security Forces Center is rolling out the new helmets to security forces units. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Air Force)
The Air Force has been busy this summer. From providing the latest class of recruits to Space Force to issuing better fitting body armor to women airmen, it seems like the protectors of the sky are really looking to expand and develop on its commitment to its force. This comes after the push in 2018 for Air Force defenders to get updated weapons, along with revised training and fitness standards.
Now, security airmen are next in line to receive a uniform upgrade. Soon, they’ll be issued new special ops-like helmets. This next generation of ballistic helmet is just the latest initiative that the Air Force is taking to ensure its personnel remains safe.
This new helmet is going to replace the older and far less-adaptable Advanced Combat Helmet. The ACH is what security forces currently wear, and many airmen have complained about its bulk and weight. Adding to the challenges is that the ACH is designed for ground units, so airmen have struggled with it, and in some cases, have had to outfit and modify it with bulky additions to accomplish different mission sets.
Not only will the new helmet come with better padding, built-in railings to easily attach accessories, but they’ll also be lighter and cooler. The Air Force Security Forces Center is now sending out new ballistic helmets as it phases out the ACH.
The 71st Security Forces Squadron, located at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, was the first squadron to receive the helmet. Soon airmen everywhere will receive the upgrade.
An Air Force press release said that the initial response to the new helmet has been positive. Master Sgt. Darryl Wright, 71st SFS logistics and readiness superintendent, said that the new version is the “most agile helmet” he’s worn in 19 years.
The helmets are part of the Air Force Security Forces Control initiative to modernize not just weapon systems but also individual protective gear. Included in this refresh is contingency support equipment and deployable communications systems, both of which will be paramount to successfully defeating the enemy in future conflicts. In the future, the Air Force plans to roll out a newly revised M18 modular handgun system, M4A1 assault rifle, M110A1 semi-automatic precision engagement rifle, M320A1 grenade launcher, and modular, scalable bests.
“We’re identifying salient characteristics of the best individual equipment industry has to offer at the best value to achieve standardization across the force,” said Lt. Col. Barry Nichols, AFSFC director of Logistics. “This effort is instrumental in keeping Defenders throughout the security forces enterprise ready and lethal with procurement of the most cutting-edge and innovative equipment available in order to accomplish missions safely and effectively.”
These changes all come after the Air Force’s Year of the Defender 2019 exercises, where the service conducted a detailed and extensive review of all security forces. This review explored areas that could be improved upon, both in terms of equipment and gear to tactics, training, and general morale boosts. To date, the Air Force has successfully worked through over 900 specific items that needed to change and has spent almost 0 million to update their gear.
The Air Force currently field about 25,000 active-duty security forces airmen. There are an additional 13,000 in the Air National Guard and Reserve components. Of the forces 38,000 airmen, about 98 percent are enlisted. This aligns the entire branch of the Air Force with the Army’s lightest light infantry unit.
Brig. Gen. Andrea Tullos, career security forces officer, said that the Air Force has “expeditionary roots,” and that the branch is “a blend between light infantry and a military police company.”
Collectively, these big changes are helping the service gain air superiority over the peer adversary that could potentially pose a big threat to the military. As the Air Force continues to look toward the future and the likelihood of conflicts with either Russia or China, the Air Force needs to be able to pick up the slack safeguarding forward-deployed squadrons instead of relying on ground forces. This new helmet upgrade is yet another step to making sure that can happen.
An Army spouse has found her purpose after overcoming homelessness and creating her own organization that gives back.
When Marla Bautista was 18 years old, she was thrown out of her home by her abusive step-father with only a trash bag of clothes and a teddy bear that belonged to her deceased mother. For almost two years she lived a transient lifestyle staying in shelters, with friends and on the streets. It was the generosity of a local Catholic church that changed the trajectory of Bautista’s life.
“There were volunteers who handed out sandwich bags with hygiene items and they didn’t want anything from us. It was just ‘this is for you because you need it.’ And that was something that truly touched my heart. I promised myself that if I ever overcame that situation of homelessness that I would do the same,” she said.
Bautista and her husband, Staff Sgt. Ulisses Bautista, started serving their community as a family in 2011 and would later become The Bautista Project Inc. They began by using their own funds to distribute meals and hygiene bags for the homeless. Their nonprofit now provides basic living essentials, educational resources, support groups, veterans services and community resources for reintegration.
The impact they’ve created near their assigned duty stations has fostered an environment where the homeless can feel like they belong. With this, PCS’ing affects the Bautistas differently.
“Every time we move, we feel like we are leaving a community behind,” she said. But due to the vast amount of homeless in the U.S., there is always a new part of the community to impact.
In the state of Florida alone there are over 28,000 homeless Americans, of which 1500 are local to Hillsborough County in Tampa where the Bautistas currently reside. Although homelessness in America has decreased by 12% since 2007, according to the National Society to End Homelessness, there are still over 567,000 homeless people in the US.
The Bautistas have served the homeless population in Germany, Colorado Springs, New York and now Tampa.
Within a week of PCS’ing to south Florida, they were volunteering in a shelter.
“We have to reintegrate ourselves in that new community,” she adds.
Consistency matters. Her entire family goes out twice a month with meals and care packages, and instead of giving and going, they sit and interact with the locals in need. They get to know them and eventually build friendships.
In 2018 Bautista, with a desire to do more, began reaching out to her fellow military spouses and Facebook friends. With their help, her nonprofit has been able to provide winter jackets, gift a color printer to a shelter, create a small library of free books, raise funds to host a Christmas party at a homeless shelter getting what she calls “real gifts” for the attendees and shelter volunteers and distribute disposable masks. They also continue to collect uniforms to make belonging blankets for homeless youth in group homes or shelter setting.
The Army has been a vehicle allowing them to help in different parts of the world and Bautista’s husband shares her passion for giving to those in need, including homeless veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that as of January 2019 there were 37,085 homeless veterans in the U.S.
Bautista doesn’t judge any of them. “We’ve all fallen on hard times before. It just looks different for everyone,” she said.
One simple thing that she says anyone can do to start giving back is to purchase four gift cards at an essentials store or fast-food restaurants.
“That’s just and you can hand those out,” she says, adding that something this small can provide a meal for a person and the act can change their life.
To donate to The Bautista Project Inc. visit www.thebautistaprojectinc.org. You can purchase items from their Amazon Wishlist or donate directly to their nonprofit.
Fabian Hambüchen knew from childhood that he was going to compete in the Olympic Games — and he knew that he was going to get gold.
In 2016, his dream came true at the Olympic Games in Rio where he won gold on the high bar. But the path to gold was anything but easy: the life of a gymnast is characterized by the pressure to perform, setbacks and injuries, and experiences that demand a lot of mental strength.
At the Fibo 2018 sports fair in Cologne, Fabian Hambüchen told Business Insider about his most excruciating defeat and how he fought his way back to the top mentally.
How your brain can scupper your plans
As reigning World Champion, Fabian Hambüchen travelled to Beijing in 2008 to go for gold.
“I was the favourite. I had the opportunity to win several medals and it was expected that I’d get gold on the high bar,” he said.
His chances were good — but his thought process sabotaged him and he ended up with a bronze medal.
“When I qualified, it went great. I was in the best starting position possible. But then these thoughts went through my mind: I really want to become an Olympic champion. This is my big dream. I want this, I want this, I want this.” These thoughts “set him on a completely wrong track” and led him to slip up.
The disappointment was immense. “I compensated by training harder and harder until my body told me its limits,” he describes the time after the games. “I hurt myself, yet I carried on. In the end, I injured myself even more severely: I tore my Achilles tendon.”
That was when Fabian Hambüchen realised he had to change something: his way of thinking. He had to get stronger not physically but mentally.
“I didn’t respond sensibly. I trained too much, I was too ambitious, and my injury stopped me in my tracks — but in the end it was the best thing that could have happened to me. It was then that I began to realise that there are other ways of moving forward.”
Hambüchen’s tips for mental strength
Gymnastics is a tough scene, in which Hambüchen started training very early. He received mental support from his uncle, a qualified teacher who had specialised in mental coaching.
Hambüchen now has some of his own tips for mental strength. One thing he learned after winning bronze in Beijing was to focus only on what was essential. Question why it actually is that you’re doing what you’re doing.
“I remind myself that the reason I’m doing this sport is that I love gymnastics and I enjoy doing it. When we do sport as kids, we all do it because we enjoy it; not because we’re training to become world champion or to get rich off it,” he said.
Hambüchen said that if you keep reminding yourself of this and keep looking within yourself, searching yourself and asking yourself about why it is you’re doing what you’re doing, it can quickly ground you again, renew your energy, gratitude and motivation. And there’s a positive side-effect with gratitude: studies have shown that gratitude increases well-being and reduces the risk of depression.
“We tend to try and change situations we can’t,” said Hambüchen. Another trick for mental strength is to remember what is and isn’t in your hands.
“What’s the point in wasting energy on things you can’t control? I’m not walking up to the high bar wondering what kind of referees are sat there. They’re all just people, the rating is subjective and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
This applies not only to sport but, studies show, to work or to one’s personal life. Don’t allow others to take control of you — it’s up to you to give others the power to ruin your day.
“It’s important to focus on the self and to try to be the best version of yourself,” advised Hambüchen.
Of course, this is all a lot easier said than done. Hambüchen stresses that it took him years to mentally train himself into mastering this technique. But it paid off.
“Understanding what needs doing and then applying it to the situation with the right approach is a huge challenge. But if you internalise this message and are completely in touch with yourself, you can call on your maximum performance. None of this guarantees success but, rather, it serves as a technique to fall back on when your mind is getting in your way. And it works.”
Recovering from physical injury
“I’ve learned to learn from defeats, to analyze them and to think about what I can change to do better,” said Hambüchen. Even after that, not everything went well. “But I still thought differently, I wasn’t so dogged in how I went at things.”
It was this new way of thinking and mental strength that helped him win silver at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and then gold in Rio in 2016, despite having a torn supraspinatus muscle.
These victories are largely due to his mental strength. With the help of his doctor he suppressed the pain and his health wasn’t constantly in the fore of his mind.
“The shoulder is a joint that’s very well supported by muscles. So you can do it without that one string. Everything beyond that was a matter of the mind.”
He was unable to train for three months due to the injury. Normally, after such a long break, it takes weeks and months to get fit again — but Hambüchen only had three weeks remaining before the national championships to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio.
“During this time I gave my training my all, adjusted mentally and paid close attention to my diet. “I lost five to six kilos in two to three weeks and was really fit.” And he won the gold medal on high bar.
After winning gold, Fabian Hambüchen ended his international career. He’s learned an important lesson in life: there’s no point in allowing others to negatively influence you and in constantly worrying about things that aren’t in your hands.
With this newly acquired mental strength, he was able to call on his abilities precisely when he needed them and, as a result, was able to celebrate the greatest victory of his career.
“Another four years of giving it my all and to then be rewarded with gold is such an accomplishment … it was mad, and just awesome.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Frank Clark was 15 years old when Pearl Harbor was brazenly attacked by the Japanese on December 7th, 1941. On that fateful Sunday morning in Hawaii, 2,403 people lost their lives and 1178 more were wounded. The next day, the United States entered World War II.
Clark’s two older brothers, Charles and Pat immediately enlisted into the Air Corps. “Our patriotism among the young men was unbelievable. They just flooded the enlistment,” he shared. Since he was too young to join, he had to wait. On December 23rd, 1943, his mother signed the paperwork that would allow him to become a United States Marine.
He was just 17 years old.
Clark had a twinkle in his blue eyes and a sly grin when he shared that he chose to serve as a Marine because of their beautiful uniforms. He had no way of knowing what was waiting for him.
Clark turned 18 two weeks before he graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, CA and was chosen to become a radio operator. When he finished his training, he joined the 4th Marine division in Hawaii. On February 17th, 1945 – he and those he described as “on his level” were told of the plan to invade Iwo Jima in two days time.
The 4th Marine division was told that the invasion would give the United States a staging facility to eventually attack Japan, since Iwo Jima was just 750 miles from its coast. Iwo Jima boasted two air strips that would be needed for a successful attack on Japan. Clark also shared that the officers told them that the recent air and naval bombardments over thirty days had taken out 95% of the Japanese’s fighting force on Iwo Jima. Officers assured the Marines that they’d be off the island in five days and back in Hawaii.
Clark shook his head and said, “What they told us was wrong and we paid dearly for it.”
As a radio operator, he was on a small communications ship off the shore of Iwo Jima as the Army and Marine divisions hit the island all at once. Clark watched in horror as the men who stepped off the landing ship were killed without warning.
Unbeknownst to those officers who planned the attack on Iwo Jima, the Japanese had created underground tunnels. It was there that they hid, safely waiting out the month long bombings from the United States. As those soldiers and Marines stepped onto the beaches of Iwo Jima, on February 19th, 1945, a camouflaged mountainside artillery awaited them.
It would take all day under intense fire, but eventually the Marines and soldiers were able to take the first part of that coveted airfield. The price for that piece of land was heavy. Hundreds of bodies laid on the volcanic ash sand beach bearing witness to the cost of that day.
On the third day of the battle of Iwo Jima, Clark got off the boat and made his way on the island – with an extra forty pounds of radio equipment on his back. He and the other Marines he was with struggled through the tough sand to make their way to safer positions.
At one point, he and three other radio operators were in a hole about five feet deep with all of their equipment communicating with their leaders. Clark vividly remembers what happened next. He bent over to get something and within a second, the Marine behind him was shot in the forehead, dying instantly. That bullet was meant for Clark, but bending over saved his life.
It wouldn’t be the last time Clark narrowly evaded death.
He remembers the feeling of that volcanic ash sand on his body. He stopped to take a quick break to catch some sleep, burying himself in the sand and covering his head with his poncho. “When I started getting up and pushing myself to get out, I felt a hand there. As it turned out, I had taken my little nap laying in the lap of a dead Japanese soldier. It wasn’t a good feeling, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Clark said.
Clark shared another memory of his time on Iwo Jima. He recalled seeing six rows – each the length of a football field – of bodies covered in white lime. He was unsure if they were American or Japanese bodies, but seeing that gave him an eerie feeling. Clark said you won’t find pictures or videos of that, as he was sure the government told the media not to show it. That image of those bodies has stayed fresh in his mind.
The Marines and soldiers continued their advancement onto Iwo Jima, slowly taking the island. On day six of the bloody battle, that now infamous picture was taken of the Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The image would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an iconic image of the war.
It would take almost another month before they captured the island completely. When they left that island, Clark didn’t look back.
The Marines in his division never made their way to Japan – they didn’t have the fighting power like they originally planned for. The Battle of Iwo Jima took the lives of 6,800 brave men and US troops suffered 26,000 casualties. After the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese quickly surrendered.
After leaving Iwo Jima, Clark was informed that his two brothers, Charles and Pat, had both been killed in action.
Clark left the Marines after the war ended and went on to live a quiet civilian life. He was married for 68 years and 8 months to his beautiful wife Nadine, before she passed away in 2017. After her death, he moved into the Missouri Veterans Home.
Frank took a break from his interview to ask WATM writer Jessica Manfre for a dance.
These days, Clark enjoys spending time on his computer and visiting with the ladies that work at the Veterans home.
When asked what advice he would give incoming service members as we approach twenty years at war he laughingly joked, “Do what you can to get into officer’s training – live the better life.”
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Doris “Dorie” Miller was serving aboard the USS West Virginia as a Navy mess attendant 2nd class when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
As his battleship was sinking, the powerfully built 22-year-old sharecropper’s son from Waco, Texas, helped move his dying captain to better cover before manning a .50-caliber machine gun and shooting at the attacking Japanese planes until he had no more ammunition. Miller was one of the last men to leave his sinking ship, and after unloading on the enemy, he turned his attention to pulling injured sailors out of the harbor’s burning, oily water.
Miller’s legendary actions, for which the sailor received the Navy Cross, were immortalized in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! and in Michael Bay’s 2001 film Pearl Harbor. But those depictions only provide surface details of Miller’s extraordinary service and its legacy in changing the course of US history.
Here are seven facts every American should know about this American icon.
Family members of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller react after the unveiling of the future Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
He’s the first enlisted sailor or Black American to ever have an aircraft carrier named after him.
The Navy made history Jan. 20, 2019, when it announced at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that it would name a new Ford-class aircraft carrier, CVN-81, after Miller.
Supercarriers are typically named for US presidents, and the USS Doris Miller, which is still under construction, is the first to be named for an enlisted sailor or Black American. Navy officials said it will be the most powerful and lethal warship ever built.
“Dorie Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation,” said former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly during the ceremony last year. “His story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue to stand the watch today. He’s not just the story of one sailor. It is the story of our Navy, of our nation and our ongoing struggle to form — in the words of our Constitution — a more perfect union.”
Emrys Bledsoe, bottom, great-great-grandnephew of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller, attempts to cut a cake next to acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, third from left, Mrs. Robyn Modly, left, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, right, and other Miller relatives at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
The carrier will be the second Navy vessel to honor Miller.
According to KPBS San Diego, the Navy now has 10 Black admirals serving in its ranks.
As a Black sailor in 1941, Miller wasn’t even supposed to fire a gun.
As NPR reported Tuesday, “When he reached for that weapon, he was taking on two enemies: the Japanese flyers and the pervasive discrimination in his own country.”
“One of the ways in which the Navy discriminated against African Americans was that they limited them to certain types of jobs, or what we call ‘ratings’ in the Navy,” historian Regina Akers from the Naval History and Heritage Command told NPR. “So, for African Americans, many were messmen or stewards. Dorie Miller was a messman, which meant that he basically took care of an officer, laid out his clothes, shined his shoes and served meals.”
Miller speaks during a war bond tour stop at the Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois, on Jan. 7, 1943. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.
Miller’s legend would have been lost if not for the Black press.
Members of the Black press knew that getting Miller proper recognition could undermine the stereotype that Black Americans weren’t any good in combat. But when journalists from The Pittsburgh Courier — one of the leading Black newspapers of the time — looked into Miller’s story, the Navy initially wouldn’t identify him, saying there were too many messmen in its ranks to find him.
Before his death in 2003, former Courier reporter Frank Bolden said in an interview with the Freedom Forum, “The publisher of the paper said, ‘Keep after it.’ We spent ,000 working to find out who Dorie Miller was. And we made Dorie Miller a hero.”
Miller’s actions initially earned him nothing more than a letter of commendation, but coverage by the Black press captured public attention, and eventually, US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz upgraded Miller’s commendation to the Navy Cross, then the third-highest honor for heroism.
Akers, the historian, told NPR, “In just like the flip of a switch, [Miller] becomes a celebrity. He becomes one of the first heroes, period, of the war, but certainly one of the first African American heroes of the war. He was on recruitment posters. His image was everywhere.”
Miller receives the Navy Cross from Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise on May 27, 1942. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.
Miller’s story changed the Navy and military forever, paving the way for desegregation in the service.
Even before Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, his story quickly effected reforms. The Navy opened up jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman, and radar operator to Black sailors and eventually started commissioning Black officers.
“Things came together at Pearl Harbor for Doris Miller and for the civil rights movement, probably to maximum effect,” Baylor University history professor Michael Parrish told NPR.
Miller’s story inspired Black artists to produce works that spread his legend far and wide and inspired generations of activists who were determined to build a more just society. In 1943, Langston Hughes, the Black American poet best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote this poem about the trailblazing sailor:
When Dorie Miller took gun in hand — Jim Crow started his last stand. Our battle yet is far from won But when it is, Jim Crow’ll be done. We gonna bury that son-of-a-gun!
Parrish, who co-authored Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement, said President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to desegregate the military in 1948 can also be traced to Miller’s heroics at Pearl Harbor.
“World War II was really the turning point in that long struggle,” Parrish told NPR.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The congresswoman has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.
Some Congressional leaders believe Miller’s Navy Cross should be upgraded to a Medal of Honor.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents Texas’ 30th Congressional District, said in a 2010 press release that she has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993.
“For more than 50 years, members of Congress have been working to give Petty Officer Doris Miller a Congressional Medal of Honor,” Johnson said. “Eighteen years after I first came to the House, we are still working on it. In my judgment, Dorie Miller saved our country from invasion, and as long as I live, I will do what I can to honor this great American hero.”
Miller was later killed in action in World War II and never lived to see the lasting effects of his heroics.
After Pearl Harbor, Miller went on serving his nation in World War II, and in 1943, he was one of hundreds of sailors killed when their ship was torpedoed and sank in the Pacific. While Miller’s body was never found, his legacy lives on, and his name has graced a postage stamp, schools, roads, and community centers all over the country.
And the service that once wouldn’t even release Miller’s name to the public now honors him alongside US presidents.
You had choices when you showed up at the recruiting offices at your local strip mall. If you didn’t pick USAF you missed out, and here are 9 reasons why:
1. We call each other by our first names and don’t get hung up on rank. (It helps us prepare for not working as a grocery store bagger when we separate.)
2. Because Chuck Norris.
3. The Air Force coined the term “counterspace operations” because it couldn’t be contained to just this planet.
4. The Air Force has the best and the most expensive toys. This is why the Air Force budget is the largest. You’ve only seen the B-2 because we wanted you to see the B-2. The other ones are the //redacted//, the //redacted//, and best of all the //redacted//.
5. The Air Force ages gracefully. (The SR-71 Blackbird is still the coolest thing ever made for the US military.)
6. Iron Man and the War Machine are stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.
7. The enlisted have the same or better operational survival rate than the officers.
8. No service delivers more freedom in one serving.
The Marine Corps has, in recent months, started to shift its focus away from operations in the Middle East and begun to emphasize preparing to operate in extreme cold— like that found in northern Europe and northeast Asia.
US forces “haven’t been in the cold-weather business for a while,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said in January 2018. “Some of the risks and threats there, there is a possibility we are going to be there.”
That reorientation has placed new demands on Marines operating at northern latitudes in Europe and North America — and put new strains on their equipment.
The Corps has issued requests for information on a new cap and gloves for intense cold, and it plans to spend nearly $13 million on 2,648 sets of NATO’s ski system for scout snipers, reconnaissance Marines, and some infantrymen.
But the transition to new climates hasn’t gone totally smoothly. Marines in northern Norway in 2016 and early 2017 reported a number of problems with their gear. Zippers stuck; seams ripped; backpack frames snapped; and boots repeatedly pulled loose from skis or tore on the metal bindings.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brianna Gaudi)
Now the service is increasingly drawing on new technology to keep Marines equipped in harsh environments.
Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, working with the Marine Corps System Command team focused on additive manufacturing, which is also known as 3D printing, have come up with a method for same-day printing of new snowshoe clips, which keep boots locked into show shoes.
“If a Marine is attacking a position in the snow while in combat, and the clip on their boot breaks, it makes it difficult for the Marine to run forward with a rifle uphill to complete the mission,” Capt. Matthew Friedell, AM project officer in MCSC’s Systems Engineering and Acquisition Logistics, said in a release. “If he or she has a 3D-printed clip in their pocket, they can quickly replace it and continue charging ahead.”
Th teams designed and printed the new clip, made of resin, within three business days of the request, and each clip costs just $0.05, the Marine Corps said in the release. The team has also 3D-printed an insulated cover for radio batteries that would otherwise quickly be depleted in cold weather.
“The capability that a 3D printer brings to us on scene saves the Marine Corps time and money by providing same-day replacements if needed,” said Capt. Jonathan Swafford, AM officer at MWTC. “It makes us faster than our peer adversaries because we can design whatever we need right when we need it, instead of ordering a replacement part and waiting for it to ship.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Damion Hatch Jr.)
The Marines aren’t the only ones working on 3D printing. The Navy is using it to make submersibles, and Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Carlton Everhart said in mid-2017 that the Air Force was looking at 3D printing to produce replacement parts.
But the Marine Corps has expressed particular interest in the technology.
A September 2016 message gave Marine unit commands broad permission to use 3D printing to build parts for their equipment. The force now relies on it to make products that are too small for the conventional supply chain, like specialized tools, radio components, or items that would otherwise require larger, much more expensive repairs to replace.
In June 2017, Marine Lt. Col. Howard Marotto, the Corps’ lead for additive manufacturing and 3D printing, told Military.com that Marines were the first to deploy the machines to combat zones with conventional forces.
Marotto said several of the desktop-computer-size machines had been deployed with the Marine Corps crisis-response task force in the Middle East.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kaitlin Kelly)
The Corps is developing the X-FAB, a self-contained, transportable 3D-printing facility contained within a 20-foot-by-20-foot box, meant to support maintenance, supply, logistics, and engineer units in the field. The service also said it wants to 3D-print mini drones for use by infantry units.
Marine officials have attributed much of the Corps’ progress with 3D printing to its younger personnel, many of whom have taken initiative and found ways to incorporate the new technology.
“My eyes are watering with what our young people can do right now,” Marine Corps Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters said at a conference in March 2018, adding that 69 of the devices had been deployed across the force. “I have an engineering background, but I’m telling you, some of these 21- and 22-year-olds are well ahead of me.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Thousands of heroes have emerged since the U.S. Marine Corps was founded on November 10, 1775. Here are 11 among them who became Leatherneck legends:
1. Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller
Lewis “Chesty” Puller joined the Marines during World War I, but that war ended before he was deployed. He saw combat in Haiti and Nicaragua before the outbreak of World War II.
In the Pacific theater of World War II, Puller led an American advance that succeeded against a huge Japanese force at Guadalcanal. During the Korean War Puller and his Marines conducted a fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir that crippled seven Chinese divisions in the process. He remains one of America’s most decorated warriors with 5 Navy Crosses and numerous other high-level awards.
2. Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly
Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly was called “the fightinest Marine I ever knew” by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. He is possibly most famous for leading outnumbered and outgunned Marines in a counterattack at the Battle of Belleau Wood with the rallying cry, “Come on, you sons of b-tches, do you want to live forever?”
He also received two Medals of Honor. The first was for single-handedly holding a wall in China as Chinese snipers and other soldiers tried to pick him off. The second was awarded for his role in resisting an ambush by Caco rebels in Haiti and then leading a dawn counterattack against them.
3. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler
Like Daly, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler is one of the few people who have received two Medals of Honor. His first was for leading during the assault and occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico in 1914. Eighteen months later he led a group of Marines and sailors against Caco rebels holed up in an old French fort. For his bravery during the hand-to-hand combat that followed, he was awarded his second Medal of Honor.
John Basilone first served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines but switched to the Marine Corps in time for World War II. He served with distinction in the Pacific Theater and received a Medal of Honor for his actions at Guadalcanal and a posthumous Navy Cross for actions at Iwo Jima.
At Guadalcanal he emplaced two machine gun teams under fire and then manned a third gun himself, killing 38 enemy soldiers before charging through enemy lines to resupply trapped Marines. He later destroyed a Japanese blockhouse on his own and then guided a tank through a minefield and artillery and mortar barrages at Iwo Jima. While escorting the tank, he was struck by shrapnel and killed.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond was possibly the world’s saltiest and most gung-ho Marine recruit when he joined at the age of 27 in 1917. He quickly became known for being loud, not caring about rank or uniform regulations, and always being ready to fight.
Foss was awarded the Medal of Honor for his World War II exploits. After that war, he helped organize the American Football League and the South Dakota Air National Guard. He deployed to Korea with the Air National Guard and rose to the rank of brigadier general before retiring. He died in 2003.
9. Cpl. Joseph Vittori
Cpl. Joseph Vittori made his mark on Hill 749 in Korea on Sep. 16, 1951. Vittori and his fellow Marines were securing a hill they had just taken from Chinese forces when a counterattack forced a 100-yard gap that could’ve doomed the U.S. forces. Vittori and others rushed into the opening with automatic rifles and machine guns.
Sgt. Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney may not have the name recognition of Carlos Hathcock, but he has 10 more confirmed kills with 103. Mawhinney’s work in the Vietnam War was almost forgotten until a book, “Dear Mom: A Sniper’s Vietnam” revealed that he had the most confirmed kills in Marine Corps history.
One of the scout sniper’s greatest engagements came when an enemy platoon was attempting to cross a river at night on Valentine’s Day to attack an American base. Mawhinney was on his own with an M-14 and a starlight scope. He waited until the platoon was in the middle of crossing the river, then dropped 16 NVA soldiers with 16 head shots.
11. Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson
Gilbert Johnson served in both the Army and Navy for a total of 15 years before joining the Corps. When he began Marine Corps basic training, he was nicknamed “Hashmark” because he had more service stripes than many of his instructors.
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, an infantry rifleman corporal with 3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, Charlie Company during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, is having a United States naval ship commissioned in his honor on March 7, 2020 in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
Williams received a Medal of Honor from President Truman for his efforts as special weapons unit in a flamethrower demolition group in advancing US forces on Feb. 23, 1945.
Williams was born in 1923 in Fairmont, West Virginia. He decided to join the Marine Corps in May 1943. During his time in the armed forces, Williams fought the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, and Williams was a pivotal component in The United States’ victory.
“When we arrived on shore it was really chaotic because the Marines of the 4th Division had been pinned to that area for days; two days at least,” said Williams. “Many of them had been wounded and evacuated so there were packs and rifles and jeeps blowing up and tanks stuck in the sand.”
Williams shared how the Marines would “belly out” and the tracks would turn but couldn’t get any traction because the sand was so loose. He recalls how when he first arrived from the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins Boat, Marines that had been killed were rolled in their ponchos.
The goal was to destroy as many of the enemy’s pill boxes, or strategic bunkers that housed weaponry and allow protection from enemy forces. Williams used a flamethrower to take down the Japanese pillboxes for hours.
Upon his return home in 1945 he received a Medal of Honor award for his bravery by President Truman.
“From that day on, I took on a new life.” said Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran. “I became a public figure that I had no plan whatsoever to be.”
He retired after twenty years in the Marine Corps Reserve and became the Commandant of the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville, West Virginia for almost 10 years. “It’s almost like a dream,” said Williams. “It’s something that I dreamed would never happened.”
Williams discussed how a Marine saw a ship with a Medal of Honor recipients name on it 20 years ago and he wanted to have a ship named after Williams as well.
Williams was told that that there would be a petition to have a ship named in his honor, and for several years there were petitions and paperwork to vouch for Williams having a ship named after him. Williams did not believe that a ship could be named after a corporal, and believed that was something reserved only for presidents and generals.
“I never dreamed it would happen,” said Williams. “I never thought it was possible.”
The Department of the Navy called Williams and told him that the petition would be approved. Upon approval, Williams needed to find a sponsor for the ship.
In naval history, the sponsor is traditionally one woman, usually the wife of the person having the ship named after him. This tradition was broken because Williams did not want to choose between his two daughters, so the Navy allowed both of his daughters to be the sponsors of his ship because his wife is deceased.
After picking a sponsor, Williams was required to pick a motto for the ship. The ships motto will be: peace we seek, peace we keep.
“I fought for quite some time; I could not come up with anything,” said Williams. “One morning, at about two o’clock in the morning I woke up and there it was. I jumped up and wrote it down before I lost it.”
Williams describes how he never dreamed that the Navy would actually use those words. He concluded the interview by sharing the principles that he chooses to live by.
“Serving others gives you a satisfaction that you cannot get anywhere else.” said Williams.
Researchers from MIT and NASA have developed an airplane wing that can change shape and increase the efficiency of aircraft flight, production, and maintenance, according to MIT News.
On a traditional airplane wing, only parts of the wing, such as flaps and ailerons, can move to change the plane’s direction. The wing designed by the MIT and NASA researchers would be able to move in its entirety.
The wing is made of hundreds of small, identical pieces that contain both rigid and flexible components which make it lighter and more efficient than traditional airplane wings. Since the wing could adjust to the particular characteristics of each stage of flight (takeoff, landing, steering, etc.), it could perform better than traditional wings, which are not designed to maximize performance during any part of a flight.
Wing assembly under construction.
“We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack,” NASA research engineer Nicholas Cramer told MIT News.
The wing’s parts are arranged in a lattice structure that creates a large amount of empty space and covered in a thin, polymer material. Combined, the wing’s materials and structure make it as firm as a rubber-like polymer (though much less dense) and as light as an aerogel.
MIT graduate student Benjamin Jenett told MIT News that the wing performed better than expected during a test in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Truman sailed into the Arctic Circle on Oct. 19, 2019, to conduct operations in the Norwegian Sea. After years of operations in warmer climates, leaders had to think carefully about the gear they’d need to survive operations in the frigid conditions.
“We had to open a lot of old books to remind ourselves how to do operations up there,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said this week during the McAleese Defense Programs Conference, an annual program in Washington, D.C.
In one of those books was a tip for the Truman’s crew from a savvy sailor who knew what it would take to combat ice buildup on the flattop.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
“[It said] ‘Hey, when you get out to do this, when you head on out, don’t forget to bring a bunch of baseball bats,'” Richardson said. “‘There’s nothing like bashing ice off struts and masts and bulkheads like a baseball bat, so bring a bunch of Louisville Sluggers.’
“And we did,” the CNO said.
Operating in those conditions is likely to become more common. Rising temperatures are melting ice caps and opening sea lanes that weren’t previously passable, Richardson said.
But it takes a different set of skill sets than today’s generation is used to, he added.
“Getting proficiency in doing flight operations in heavy seas, in cold seas — just operating on deck in that type of environment is a much different stress than doing flight operations on a deck that’s 120 degrees in the Middle East,” Richardson said. “You’ve got to recapture all these skills in heavy seas.”
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor M. DiMartino)
The Truman’s push into the Arctic was part of an unpredictable deployment model it followed last year. For years, the Navy got good at taking troops and gear to the Middle East, hanging out there for as long as possible, and then coming home.
Now, Richardson said, there’s a different set of criteria.
“We’re going to be moving these maneuver elements much more flexibly,” he said. “Perhaps unpredictably around the globe, so we’re not going to be back and forth, back and forth.”
The Truman sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar after leaving Norfolk, Virginia, last spring. The carrier stopped in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it carried out combat missions against the Islamic State group and trained with NATO allies.
As the United States reenters the realm of great power competition, America needs to maintain its technological edge in stealth, but would benefit from a renewed emphasis on speed in combat aviation… even at the expense of observability in some platforms.
For some, the above sentence will read like a ham-fisted oxymoron coming from a chump who doesn’t understand how air power works in the modern era. After all, the most potent threats on the horizon come from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia–both nations with advanced air defense capabilities that would make even the most capable fourth-generation fighters like the new F-15EX a pretty easy target.
The F-15EX is, quite literally, the fastest aircraft in Uncle Sam’s operational inventory, so one could argue that speed just isn’t what combat aviation is about anymore. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from most fighter pilots today. The F-35, for all its faults, is widely touted as perhaps the most capable tactical aircraft in history, despite being almost slow compared to Cold War powerhouses like the F-14 Tomcat. The F-35A can achieve speeds as high as Mach 1.6, while the F-35B and C are both limited to Mach 1.3–a speed they can only maintain for less than one minute. The long-retired Tomcat, on the other hand, could pass Mach 2.3 without breaking much of a sweat.
The truth of the matter is, in a high-end fight with a nation like China, the United States would be better off flying a fleet of slower F-35s than faster (and more easily targeted) F-14s… but that line of thinking isn’t accurate to the reality of America’s simmering conflict with China. Open and conventional war with China is extremely unlikely any time in the relative future, and while America needs to invest in the technology and a force structure that can deter such a fight even further, the Sino-American conflict is more likely to play out like a new Cold War in the decades to come. That means competing in the developing world, rather than in China’s backyard.
Finally, if a large-scale war were to break out, American pilots will need speed to effectively manage individual engagements as the conflict presses on. Sometimes, the best tactical decision a pilot can make is to “bug out,” or escape the area and an opponent’s advantage. That’s where speed, once again, becomes vital to survival.
Competition with China and Russia will take place in the developing world
Immediately after World War II, the United States and Soviet Union found themselves in a decades-long staring match that prompted huge investments in military capability across both nations. The goal was simple: build the platforms you’d need to win the third World War, and that alone may be enough deterrence to prevent it from starting. Both nations built fighters and bombers that could fly ever higher, ever faster, hoping to defeat burgeoning air defenses like the SR-71 could… by simply outrunning any missile you could shoot at it.
Let there be no doubt that this method of deterrence was effective, and in truth, the most potent weapon systems are those you never have to actually employ in order to achieve your geopolitical goals. But the unintentional side effect of developing more powerful nuclear weapons and more capable airpower platforms was an inability for American and Soviet forces to actually engage one another without bringing about the nuclear apocalypse.
In order to avoid that possibility, the United States and Soviet Union turned to partner nations and proxy forces, expanding influence and strategic leverage around the globe through overt diplomacy and covert military action and assistance. In some cases, partner or proxy forces supported by each respective nation would clash, leading to America’s involvement in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Terrible as these conflicts were, they were considered a tolerable alternative to nuclear winter as the world’s two superpowers tip-toed on the line of global conflict.
China, a nation that wields not only nuclear weapons but a vast amount of economic leverage and the largest naval force on the planet, is similarly positioned for a long and drawn-out staring contest with the United States. Not only would such a fight cripple both national militaries, but it would also neuter China’s ongoing plans for expanding its global influence, as well as create chaos throughout the global economy for decades to come.
China isn’t going to declare war on the United States any time soon… But China and the United States are going to continue to compete in practically every appreciable way, which includes establishing relationships in developing countries for the purposes of gaining access to strategic resources and ports. As luck (perhaps bad luck) would have it, the regions of the world that are most likely to have those very sorts of commodities on the market throughout the 21st century are often exactly where American and allied forces are already conducting counter violent extremists operations (Counter VEO): Africa and the Middle East.
But while America and its allies have been accumulating operational experience in these theaters, China hasn’t been sleeping. Despite China largely staying out of the Global War on Terror, it has been expanding its influence in these same regions via economic and infrastructure programs, including providing massive loans to developing nations that many suspect won’t be able to pay China back. China, it seems, would prefer they didn’t anyway–as the leverage defaulted loans would offer is more strategically valuable than paying interest on a loan could be.
“Right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometers are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” explained Daan Rogeveen, an author and expert on urbanization in China and Africa.
As a result, there’s an extremely high likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in places like Africa and the Middle East. In fact, America already does. These forces will likely find themselves in direct competition with proxy or partner forces receiving support from China and Russia. The quagmire that is the ongoing conflict in Syria serves as a contemporary example of just how diverse foreign interests within a single nation can be, and just how dangerous operations in one can get.
America’s only dogfight in more than 20 years was in uncontested airspace against a 50-year-old jet
It’s worth noting that it was, in fact, over Syria that the United States scored its only air-to-air kill in literal decades in 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was forced to engage a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter that was attacking partner forces on the ground.
This short fight also offered an important lesson about bridging the gap between longstanding airpower and the cutting-edge systems employed by the United States. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, the pilot in the Super Hornet, first locked onto the Soviet-era Su-22 with the one of the Navy’s latest and most advanced air-to-air weapons, the AIM-9X, but when he fired, the Fitter deployed flares and managed to fool what was previously considered to be the most capable air combat missile in service.
“It came off the rails quick,” Tremel said. “I lost the smoke trail and I had no idea what happened to the missile after that.”
Tremel then locked on once again with an older AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired, this time finding his target and turning the Su-22 into a fireball. While the Pentagon hasn’t offered an explanation as to why their newest missile failed to discern a real fighter from a bucket of flares, some experts have postulated that it may have been a result of the AIM-9X being too well-tuned to distinguish jets from the latest and most advanced flares employed by top-of-the-line 4th and 5th generation platforms. The Su-22 has been flying since 1966, and its dirty old flares weren’t something the AIM-9X expected to run into.
Sometimes, winning a fight isn’t about who fields the latest or most expensive technology. It’s about who fields the right technology for the right situation.
Detection isn’t a threat over the developing world. Distance is.
On October 4, 2017, a group of U.S. Army Green Berets and Nigerian soldiers was ambushed by fighters from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Niger. The tragic firefight ended with four dead U.S. troops, five dead Nigerian soldiers, and some difficult questions about how the most highly trained warfighters in the world with support from the most powerful military in the world found themselves fighting through a tactical disadvantage without any air support close enough to make a difference.
In 2012, a coordinated attack against two separate U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya came with similarly painful lessons. When the dust settled, four Americans were dead, including two CIA contractors and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Like the ambush in Niger, air support for Americans in Libya was too far away to provide any meaningful assistance throughout the majority of the fight.
These two instances were outliers stretched across two decades worth of counter-extremist operations, but they both perfectly demonstrate the very real limitations of American airpower when it comes to distance. Public perception of American airpower is not always congruous with the realities of combat, an issue that extends all the way to partner forces. The assumption among most is that America has all-seeing aircraft flying overhead at all times… but that simply isn’t true.
“Unfortunately, public perception is driven sometimes by news coverage, but also by modern movies,” Dr. James Kiras explained about partner forces in a recent episode of The Irregular Warfare Podcast.
“And the idea that somehow we can’t maintain persistent coverage, that a cloud-for example-moving between you and a target could allow you to lose coverage for a critical period just seems completely inconceivable to them.”
The American people also tend to think that the United States has MQ-9 Reapers or armed F-15E Strike Eagles standing by within firing distance of every military operation–something that has been true to a large extent throughout the past two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a “stack” of air support platforms are often standing by to engage the enemy. Now, however, as the U.S. repositions assets to better deter Chinese aggression, there will be fewer air platforms to go around in these regions.
At the same time, American special operations forces tasked with fighting or training proxy fighters for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East will be spread out further and operating with less support than ever before in the modern era. Without a new approach to air support, it’s a recipe for Niger or Benghazi-style disasters.
In order to provide real airpower where it’s needed, the United States doesn’t need a fleet of slow and stealthy F-35s standing by on airstrips across friendly African nations–it needs fast air platforms with great fuel range and loitering capabilities that can reach operators in need, provide air support as necessary, and still make it back to an airstrip.
America will also need less advanced platforms that can fly from austere airstrips and travel alongside special operations teams (the Armed Overwatch Program). There are no advanced air defenses to defeat or sneak past in places like Africa. The greatest challenge to overcome then is what’s commonly referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”
When isolated elements of American troops are caught at a disadvantage, waiting four hours or more to get an F-16 on station may require a miracle, but waiting more than twice that long for a slow-moving MQ-9 Reaper may be impossible. Worse still, once the fast-moving F-16 does reach the embattled troops, they usually only have about 30 minutes of fuel to burn before having to head back–once again leaving these isolated troops without air support.
Speed has already proven handy in combat in the uncontested airspaces of the Middle East. Two years ago, I interviewed Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, for Popular Mechanics. He told me a story about one air support mission he flew in which the supersonic bomber’s speed made all the difference.
“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.
“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”
Of course, the B-1B Lancer is now slated for retirement, with the sub-sonic and stealthy B-21 Raider slated to replace it.
We need stealth to deter China, but we need speed and volume to counter them
We have a bad habit of treating these sorts of discussions like they’re all-or-nothing debates. When the Air Force requests funding for new F-15s, lawmakers and the public together cry foul at the idea of spending money on old jets that lack the stealth they’d need to survive a fight against China or Russia. Then, when the Air Force uses stealthy F-22s to conduct airstrikes against targets in uncontested airspace over places like Afghanistan, lawmakers and the public again cry foul over the high cost of using a stealth fighter for such a simple job. We can’t have it both ways, but we do need both jets.
America needs platforms like the F-35 and forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to win the wars of tomorrow, and importantly, to deter them today, but we can’t let our American preference for only the newest and best platforms unduly influence the composition of our military forces. In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t need any fighter jets. In an almost perfect world, the U.S. could afford to operate massive fleets of stealth fighters for each and every job. But in the decidedly imperfect world we live in, we’re often stuck choosing between capability and capacity. Do we want the best jets we can build or enough jets to meet our mission requirements?
While not exactly like the last Cold War, this new Sino-American Cold War possesses a similar capacity for proxy conflicts, and because these conflicts are likely to play out over the massive landmass of Africa as well as the Middle East, finding a way to get air support to far-flung troops quickly will undoubtedly save American lives.
But it won’t just be enough to field fast aircraft. They’ll also have to be cheap enough to be built in the sort of volume that would be required to overcome that tyranny of distance. With enough fast and cheap air support platforms spread throughout the continent, getting air support to special operations troops in Africa could shift from practically impossible to just another day at the office, or as close to that as one can come in combat.
Re-learning that dogfighting isn’t dead
While there’s a much higher likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in the developing world with interests that run counter to China’s or Russia’s, there remains the possibility that this new “Cold War” could boil over into a hot one. The implications of such a conflict would be massive, and even attempting an analysis of just the air war that would unfold would take a book in itself–but as this discussion pertains to tactical aircraft and speed, this is another place the U.S. needs more power under the hood.
If you talk to most modern fighter pilots, they’ll tell you that the days of dogfighting are over, thanks to the development of over-the-horizon weapons and advanced sensor suites that will allow pilots in America’s most advanced jets to target inbound fighters before their pilots even know there’s trouble brewing.
Ward Carroll, famed journalist, author, and former U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) has heard the contemporary arguments about dogfights being a thing of the past and warns about making assumptions amid a decades-long era of uncontested flight operations, especially in aircraft that aren’t fast enough to escape a pursuing fighter.
“We get too liquored up on the technology and we start to forget what happens when it gets messy. You can run out of a squadron of F-35s in short order,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“I get F-35 guys who are like, ‘you just don’t get modern battles anymore.’ No, I think I do. I think you’re not remembering the lessons of serious roll your sleeves up, get your nose bloodied warfare.”
The idea that dogfighting is dead has been informed not only by two decades worth of counter-terror operations against enemy forces with no airpower, but it also carries an uncomfortable similarity to the line of thinking that dominated air war conversations leading into Vietnam. The U.S. believed the days of dogfighting in close quarters were over, so they fielded fast-moving F-4s armed with air-to-air missiles that weren’t nearly as effective as they were intended… and no guns for fighting in close quarters.
As a result, American aviators took a serious pounding from dated Soviet aircraft with tighter turn radiuses and guns.
“That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam, told Air & Space Magazine.
“Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”
Winning a dogfight might take speed. Escaping one almost always does.
While American F-86 Sabre fighter pilots racked up a kill-to-loss ratio of 10:1 in the Korean war, American dogfighting performance, due largely to assumptions about how combat had changed, diminished dramatically in Vietnam. In the first half of the Vietnam war, American pilots could manage an average of only 2 kills for every U.S. fighter downed. Those losses directly led to the formation of the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program that most of us know today as Top Gun, where a renewed emphasis was placed on dogfighting tactics.
Now, after another multi-decade lull in air combat, America’s aviation corps is once again certain about the future of the fight, but history begs that we hedge those bets. Ward Carroll recently published a YouTube video called “Dogfighting 101” wherein he argues that dogfighting may be absent in today’s combat environment, but it’ll come back in a hurry if a near-peer conflict were to unfold. I’ll set the video to start at that portion, but it’s really worth watching Carroll’s analysis in full.
If you aren’t able to give the video a watch, here’s what Carroll had to say about dogfighting being dead:
“I’m going to submit that dogfighting is not dead, because if you’ve ever been in a major exercise, not to mention, an air-to-air war like Desert Storm, then you know that, in the heat of battle, there’s confusion, there’s all kinds of chaos, and ultimately a bandit is going to sneak through and you’ll find yourself basically engaged one-on-one with the bad guys in an old school kind of way.”
Carroll doesn’t argue that American fighters are going to go looking for a chance to get up close and personal with China’s thrust-vectoring, stealth J-20B like some imagine when they picture dogfights. Instead, he reasonably expects that in a large force-on-force situation, the chaos of warfare is going to create the circumstances for these kinds of one-on-one engagements to occur.
Carroll’s argument seems to hold true when you look at the breakdown of the early days of the air war of Desert Storm. The Coalition Forces brought a massive amount of airpower to bear over Iraq in those first days of the conflict, but despite the sheer volume of airframes in the fight, a number of small dogfights broke out and, had there not been plenty of support in the area, many more could have.
You can see exactly what Carroll predicts in this breakdown from The Operations Room. The value of speed and maneuverability when within visual range is also evident in the video. Once again, I’ll start the video at the pertinent point, but it’s worth watching this in its entirety:
What does all this have to do with speed? It’s certainly of use in a dogfight, but speed is also extremely important when it comes to getting out of a dogfight. Even the most advanced stealth platforms aren’t invisible, and if an F-35 found itself squaring off with a J-20B in a one-on-one situation, it’s feasible that the Chinese fighter could have the advantage through surprise or the roll of the combat dice.
In either regard, it would be in the F-35 pilot’s best interest to bug out and get away from that fight, or at least, to create enough separation to gain an advantage he or she could then press in turn. Unfortunately, the F-35 wouldn’t be fast enough to escape a J-20 if a pilot tried, so he or she would just be giving the Chinese jet a perfect opportunity. What’s worse is that, at this range, the F-35’s opponent wouldn’t even have to be a stealth aircraft itself.
“Stealth doesn’t work against bullets,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“We have multi-axis missiles now where I can shoot you behind my three-nine line [behind my aircraft]. Okay, but once you Winchester, meaning run out of those weapons, and you’re now in the visual arena, then none of your [stealth] defensives are working. And now you have an airplane that can barely go supersonic. So, welcome to getting shot down.”
When we’re talking about fighters squaring off with one another, stealth is extremely valuable, but in a large-scale fight with hundreds of jets in the area, speed clearly counts too.
How do you build a force that balances cost, speed, and technology?
The Air Force purchasing new F-15EXs isn’t going to solve this problem. Not only do these new fighters cost around as much as an F-35 to build (despite offering significantly more service life), the new (old) fighters the Air Force receives are already slated to replace existing F-15s that are aging out of service. While they do offer greater capability than their predecessors, each jet can still only be in one place at a time.
“We’ve got to refresh the F-15C fleet because I can’t afford to not have that capacity to do the job and the missions,” now-retired General David Goldfein said in 2019.
“That’s what this is all about. If we’re refreshing the F-15C fleet, as we’re building up the F-35 fleet, this is not about any kind of a trade.”
SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program promises to alleviate some of this need by fielding a small and inexpensive aircraft that can provide ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and direct air support to special operators. These planes are expected to operate from austere airfields with support from a very small group of maintainers. Effectively, SOCOM wants a simple aircraft that can live with the troops in the vein of the OV-10 Bronco of Vietnam fame, but with advanced ISR capabilities usually only found in technological marvels that need airstrips and facilities to operate. It’s a tall order, but fielding such an aircraft would make the sorts of special operations skirmishes that are sure to litter the coming decades far more survivable.
Despite America’s massive military budget, resource and asset scarcity remains an ongoing challenge. The MQ-9 Reaper, for instance, is the most highly requested air asset among ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with only 280 of these remotely piloted aircraft to go around, the Air Force will have to choose between continuing to support the full breadth of combat operations in the Middle East or transitioning platforms to the Pacific where a more potent deterrent maritime force is increasingly necessary.
The truth is, even after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, the U.S. military can’t completely withdraw from the Middle East and will likely need to place a larger emphasis on Africa moving forward. There are only so many air platforms to go around, especially at modern fighter jet prices of around $100 million per aircraft. In effect, America is going to be stuck fighting its old wars for some time, while adding new conflicts and new tensions elsewhere around the globe. In order to do it all, America needs more platforms without increasing defense spending in a massive way.
That may be feasible through attritable programs like Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie is a low-observable UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) capable of carrying two small diameter bombs and covering more than 2,000 miles before refueling. What makes the Valkyrie special isn’t its payload or range capabilities though, it’s the cost. At just $2-3 million per airframe, the XQ-58 costs only slightly more than a single Tomahawk cruise missile.
The Valkyrie lacks the speed that would be necessary to cover the vast distances between units that we can expect in Africa and the Middle East in the coming years, with a top end of around 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.85), but the attritable premise coupled with more power could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Valkyries have already been launched from stationary platforms using rockets, which would mean that these types of drones could be deployed from places that don’t even have airstrips, and they’re cheap enough that losing a few in a fight won’t give a commander pause.
As for the high-end fight, America’s forthcoming NGAD program, under development with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, is expected to produce a family of systems that can effectively counter the most advanced fighters on the planet like the J-20B or SU-57 without breaking a sweat. This platform will hopefully incorporate a return to emphasizing speed as well as stealth, with fuel range serving as yet another essential facet of military aviation America needs to address.
It’s going to take new platforms to counter the full spectrum of threats nations like China pose in the 21st century, and these planes can’t take decades to go from the drawing board to production as the F-35 has. In many places, they won’t need to be stealth, nor is there a requirement for a human on board, but one thing they will need to overcome the tyranny of distance and protect American lives is speed.